“Hola, resedencia espaņola nueva.”
No, Ithaca hasn’t gone entirely Spanish, but the College did introduce a new specialized dorm last fall. Vecinos (translation: neighbors) is one of a growing list of housing options available through residential life. The brainchild of modern languages and literatures professor Annette Levine, Vecinos is a partial Spanish immersion program that welcomes all levels of Spanish enthusiasts.
Levine came up with the idea because she was frustrated. Her students would further their language abilities in class, then lose their accrued skills during semester breaks when they weren’t immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment. “Students don’t become fluent unless they go abroad,” says the Bronx native. “Students who don’t have the means to go abroad or who simply want to know more about Spanish culture now have an opportunity [to learn more].”
Besides cultivating their language skills, students get an idea of what it’s like living in a Spanish-speaking country. They are required to attend a number of official programs devised by the resident assistant as well as communicate in Spanish, eat Hispanic foods, watch Spanish films, experience Spanish cultural offerings, stay abreast of current events in the Spanish-speaking world, and share their knowledge outside the dorm. “Language is only a diving board to understanding other people and cultures,” says Levine. “I hope people will walk through the hall and think they’ve left Ithaca.”
Vecinos is only one of a number of special residential programs. The Housing Offering a Multicultural Experience program is “home” to many international students, other students who apply and are accepted for residence, and all first-year Martin Luther King Jr. scholars. HOME residents are required to attend programs and take specific classes relating to diversity. “This is definitely one of the closest-knit communities on campus,” says
Samantha Palmer ’06, a former resident assistant for the HOME program. “We look out for each other, lend a helping hand, and give a shoulder to lean on.”
The trend to specialized dorms isn’t confined to cultural themes. The Sustainably Conscious Living Community has attracted students with an interest in environmentalism. “I was a little nervous coming in because I didn’t know a lot about sustainability initially,” says Jennifer Wills ’09. “The residents are very active and knowledgeable. They teach one another.”
And they are applying sustainable practices in their everyday lives. There are drying racks in the laundry room to encourage electricity savings, reusable hand towels instead of paper towels in the bathrooms, and a “ride board” to make carpooling easier. “We are trying to spread sustainable concepts,” says Wills. “We want them to spread to other dorms.”
In fact, all of these communities want to create awareness outside their walls, and all their programs and trips are open to everyone on campus. Professor Levine wants not only the figurative open-door policy but a literal one as well. “I want the students to leave their doors open,” she says, “and be willing to talk to everyone.” In Spanish, of course!
Originally published in Fuse: Custom Homes.